Prolongation of Cardiac Allograft Survival by Inhibition of ERK1/2 Signaling in a Mouse Model

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Background.It has been demonstrated that in vitro the presence of extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1 and 2 (ERK1/2) signaling inhibitor suppresses T cell activation and Th1 development. However, pharmacological interference of ERK1/2 signaling by administration of its small molecule inhibitor has not been tested as a therapeutic target in the prevention of allograft rejection.Methods.The immunosuppressive effect of targeting ERK1/2 signaling was tested on cardiac allograft survival in C57BL/6 (H-2b) to Balb/c (H-2d) murine model using PD98059 inhibitor. Phosphorylation/activation of ERK 1/2 and STAT6 proteins were assessed by Western blot.Results.Blockade of ERK1/2 using PD98059 had significant immunosuppressive effect and prolonged survival of mouse cardiac allografts from 8.3±0.5 days (vehicle) to 12.6±1.3 days (100 mg/kg PD98059; P<0.0001). Combination therapy of PD98059 (100 mg/kg) with cyclosporine (CsA, 15 mg/kg for 20 days) additionally enhanced graft survival (34.4±1.2 days) compared to CsA (14.9±1.1 days; P<0.0001) or PD98059 monotherapy (P<0.0001). Attenuation of graft rejection by PD98059 correlated to reduction of intragraft ERK phosphorylation and leukocyte infiltration, and to increase in interleukin (IL)-4 or decrease in interferon-γ production within the grafts. In vitro inhibition of ERK1/2 by PD98059 promoted Th2 differentiation by upregulation IL-4 production but not altering IL-4 stimulating STAT6 pathway.Conclusion.Targeting ERK1/2 signaling results in suppression of alloimmune responses by an unique mechanism that involves Th1/Th2 skewing, suggesting a therapeutic potential of inhibition of ERK1/2 signaling for transplant rejection, particularly in combination with CsA.

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